The proposed shifting of Asiatic lions from Gir to a protected zone in Madhya Pradesh has run into fresh hurdles with the Rajasthan government contending that it could lead to conflict with tigers.
The Gujarat government too is planning a second home for Gir’s lion population, described by Prime Minister Narendra Modi as the pride of the state.
Modi as chief minister of Gujarat had opposed the lion relocation project though the Supreme Court in April 2013 directed the Central government to shift some of the endangered animal from its only home in India to a man-made green habitat in the Shivpuri district of Madhya Pradesh, where over 100 years ago both tigers and lions co-existed.
But, the Rajasthan government --- not a respondent in the Supreme Court case --- has now questioned the possibility of co-existence saying relocation of lions can endanger tigers from Ranthambore national park in Rajasthan which have shifted base to Kuno through a natural corridor.
The Rajasthan government has also provided camera trap evidence to show that tigers from Ranthambore have been spotted 135 kms away in Kuno.
At least, four tigers from Ranthambore and nearby forests have been spotted in Kuno in the last three years, said an official of the Rajasthan government.
“In such a scenario, there needs to be a study done on whether the two species of big cats can co-exist. There is a possibility that either tiger or lion may die during a conflict,” a senior state government official said.
Fayaz Khudsar, a biologist with Delhi University on whose petition the apex court had ordered relocation of lions, said there has been no scientific research on the subject in central India.
“A small paper published by wildlife historian Mahesh Rangarajan found that lions and tigers had co-existed in Shivpuri district before they were hunted down over 100 years ago,” he said.
The new evidence from the Rajasthan government was more than enough to help the environment ministry to make Rajasthan part of the committee set up to examine lion relocation after the SC order.
Rajasthan has been made a member of the Asiatic Lion Management Committee and its claims were being scientifically examined, a ministry official confirmed.
Wildlife activists said the decision would further delay implementation of the Supreme Court’s order as the ministry will seek more time for implementation.
“The issue of lion-tiger conflict had been extensively dealt in an expert committee report submitted to the Supreme Court. I will file an application in the court praying for direction to get its 2013 order implemented,” Khudsar said.
The Gujarat government has further dented the possibility of relocation by deciding to explore another home for lions in Amreli district in Saurashtra region. This, wildlife activists, say will kill the possibility of relocation of lions to Kuno-Palpur.
“Lions can be relocated as Amreli has Gir-like dry deciduous forest and the weather is also similar,” a state government official said, adding that Amreli had lions before they were confined to the protected areas in Gir National Park.